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  • Writer's pictureThe Resultants

Client Spotlight: An Interview With Phil Mattison and Rob Cooper of Core Products International

Updated: Apr 18


At The Resultants, we’re passionate about helping our clients grow their businesses. 


As Business Advisors and past and current business owners, we know the importance of maintaining strong growth and the effect that has not only on the future of a business, but also on the futures of the people that business employs. When we partner with our clients, we use our extensive experience to help them navigate the challenges of maintaining growth and ensuring a bright future for their company and their staff. 


As one of our longest running clients, Core Products International, Inc, has experienced this first-hand. 


We recently sat down with Phil Mattison, Founder and CEO, and Rob Cooper, President of Core Products to discuss their experience with growth through M&A, the changes their company is going through, and how working with The Resultants has helped them every step of the way.


Can you give us some background about Core Products International? How did you get started?

Phil: I started the business in 1988, after leaving a similar business I had started from scratch and grown for 6-7 years. 


There’s a saying I learned from Zig Ziegler: “You need to develop an inspirational discontentment with the way things are.” An entrepreneur usually has some kind of inspirational discontentment with the way things are that causes them to start their business, and I was no different. I was determined to improve upon the work I started with my first business — to create a higher level of success. And I did.


I began Core Products with one or two products — 35 years later, we have a massive collection of products and around 120 employees.


Rob, how long have you been with Core Products International? 

Rob: I’ve been with Core Products for about 13 years. 


The first 11 years I was the Director of Sales and Marketing, and for the past two years I’ve been the President. When Phil began looking to transition away from full-time participation in the business a couple years ago, I slipped into that role, with him continuing to serve as CEO and on our board.


What does a typical day look like for each of you in your current roles?

Phil: In my current role, I primarily deal with leadership team meetings. Tuesday mornings are our most important day because that’s when our leadership team meets. From there, I’ll follow up on a couple tasks I’m involved with throughout the rest of the week. 


While my greatest interest these days is in sales and marketing, I have a wonderful President in Rob, who’s taking good care of our sales and marketing, so I don't have much to worry about there.


I put in 33 years of working incredibly long days and many weekends to get to where we are today. One thing that’s made me comfortable with my current role is the fantastic coaching we had that allowed us to build a highly effective leadership team that manages itself. I’m quite happy.


Rob: I come from the sales and marketing side of the business, so I'm very interested in sales and marketing metrics. I start my morning looking at some of those metrics from the day before. I spend a disproportionate amount of my time in the sales and marketing area of the company, as that’s where I’m most experienced.


Probably the most important thing I do, however, is promote, maintain, and grow our company culture. I try to stay out of everyone’s way in terms of what they’re doing day-to-day, but I do check in with our five leadership team members who handle different parts of the business. I interact with them nearly every day. 


I attend several meetings a week, often just as an observer so as not to dominate things. People also come to me on an almost daily basis to help with decision making.


Rob, tell us about your transition from Sales and Marketing into your current role as President.

Rob: I have to say the transition wasn’t tremendously difficult. When I was the Director of Sales and Marketing, I was a member of our senior leadership team. Through the Business Operating System we put in place with the help of Steve Wilcox and The Resultants, I was exposed to every area of the business. 


Again, I knew the most about sales and marketing, but was also very familiar with our personnel, our senior leadership team, and all other areas of our business.


I certainly have more responsibility and accountability now, and those things you have to get used to. But with the tools and framework we learned from The Resultants, I felt like I was well-equipped, which made the transition that much easier for me. 


Phil, tell us about the first time you met Steve Wilcox.

Phil: From the time I started my business I was involved in a variety of business owner organizations. These groups allowed me to gather with other business owners to discuss a wide variety of topics. 


At one point, I was trying to figure out how to create a more effective sales and marketing manager. My coach at the time explained that that was beyond the scope of what he was able to help me with, so he referred me to Steve Wilcox. 


The first day I met Steve, we were talking in my office, and I walked over to the window with him and said “Steve, I want you to look out there at all these cars. When I look at those cars, I see that I’m responsible for all those car payments, the house payments that go with those cars, the college tuitions, and everything else that goes on in a family. So we’re not simply responsible for running our business, we’re responsible for helping facilitate the running of all those households.”


Then I explained to him that when I was a little boy, my mother had come from a very small town on the Florida-Alabama border, where several of my aunts worked at a shirt factory. When we started hiring people at Core Products to do factory work, I always considered that any of them could be my aunt. 


I thought it was important to treat everyone like family. That’s had a lot to do with building a positive culture within our business. Steve seemed to appreciate that. 


How did you know you could trust The Resultants? 

Phil: I felt good about them because of the referral, so we agreed to work together for one year. After a year you know whether or not someone’s bringing value. In the end, we continued to work together for another 12-14 years.


Trust is certainly important, but whether or not someone’s truly bringing value is even more important. In this case, Steve and his entire team did bring value. 


How have Steve and The Resultants impacted you and your Leadership Team and helped Phil achieve owner freedom?

Rob: Steve and The Resultants did a number of things to help us. They helped us integrate meeting management, providing a regular cadence and structure for our meetings. We learned to prioritize the things that were most important to the success and growth of the business and to establish effective and regular communication.


They also helped us get the right people in the right seats. That’s a big deal because when I came here, we had the wrong people in some key seats, and Steve helped us sort that out. He also helped us establish clear goals and set actions to achieve those goals.


In addition, working with The Resultants helped us put a system of accountability in place where everyone in the company has metrics we can track. This helps ensure we’re all working on the most important things and that we can make adjustments as needed.


When you tie all those things together, you naturally have a better company culture and more satisfied people, and we’re doing a more consistent job of achieving our goals.


Phil: Prior to working with The Resultants, we were already students of lean management enterprises and had figured out how to utilize cost and process controls and other tools to be as profitable as possible. 


Steve helped us expand on that. He helped us implement structure into our weekly meetings and introduced us to the concept of Traction (via the Gino Wickman book). We learned how to use that system and adapt it to meet the needs of our company.


Steve and The Resultants also introduced us to using an accountability chart, and from there, we put together spreadsheets that enabled us to track our key numbers, look at our major goals for each department, and make adjustments where needed.


Beyond implementing this structure, one of the first tasks Steve and his team helped us with was figuring out the sales management issue we had. Early on, we realized our sales manager was not the right fit for our culture. So I talked it through with Steve and ended up letting that gentleman go.


For several years we were cruising along working with Steve, and along the way I’d dream up things I thought would work well for us. 


One day I said to Steve, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if we started doing some exchanges where we sit in on someone else’s leadership team meeting and in exchange, we’d let them sit in on our meetings?” 


So Steve and his team helped us facilitate those exchanges. It was interesting to see how my leadership team all stepped up to another level of play as they had to present to people outside of those they dealt with on a day-to-day basis. 


I would tell anyone that having Steve and The Resultants sit in on your leadership meeting is a big deal — as soon as there’s an outside person there, the accountability level goes up. 


Then, a few years ago, I realized I needed a way to transition the business. A key thing you learn in coaching is that a business won’t transition effectively until you first get the owner into a position where the business can run without them. So we transitioned to that scenario and brought in a board of advisors (who will become our board of directors as we transition into an ESOP).


After 12 years, we decided we were ready to facilitate our own meetings, and we discontinued our formal relationship with The Resultants (though we still have an active informal relationship with them). 


How did your work with The Resultants prepare you for growth through M&A? Can you speak to the due diligence piece?

Phil: As we were working with The Resultants and doing acquisitions, we started developing a due diligence checklist. We collected various checklists from our accountants and attorneys and adapted those to develop our own checklist.


By the way, there’s a big difference between a checklist and a to-do list: With a to-do list, I'm going to do every one of the items on the list; But with a checklist, I’ll consider whether I want to do every item, but if an item doesn’t apply or won’t be helpful, I’ll skip it. 


Rob: The due diligence checklist we use today has evolved over time. We’ve done a number of small acquisitions over the years, and as we’ve done so, we’ve continued to tweak our checklist as we see new things we feel are relevant to a new acquisition. It’s really been a process. 


When you look for an acquisition target, what are your non-negotiables? 

Phil: When I look at a potential business acquisition, I look to see if their products will fit into our catalog. We use the 20/80 principle: 20% of our products generate about 80% of our volume. So we look for a company with products that will fall within that 20% of products that will generate 80% of our positive cash flow.


I also look for a strong brand name. The name has to be recognizable within our niche industry or have the capacity to be recognizable in the industry. 


And of course we need the company to be profitable. It needs to produce cash flow for us.


Rob: We love to find companies that are underperformers, because we can apply our experience and the systems we have in place (many of which we’ve learned through Steve and The Resultants) and see a lot of opportunity for sales growth and profitability.


One of the big things we look at is the financial history of the company. We like to take about five years of history to see trends in sales, revenue, and expenses. That allows us to quickly jump on things we can improve. 


We also like to do a deep dive into customers, markets, sales by item, and sales by customer. These trends tell us a lot about a business and their market, as well as potential areas where we can deliver a significant level of improvement. 


What is your number one secret to successful integration of a new entity into your established culture?

Rob: When it comes to culture, I think we have a lot to offer employees from the companies we acquire. There are unique things about us, including the business management system we use, which allows for prioritization, effective and regular communication, and accountability. 


We’re also an employee-owned company (ESOP), and as such, we’re an open book company. So when we expose new employees to the Core Way, a great flow of information and communication, clearly defined goals and actions, and our friendly engaging culture, that’s usually a refreshing thing.


Employees who start to work for us really enjoy that — they’re not used to seeing culture like ours.


Throughout your 12 year relationship with The Resultants, what has their “Team Behind Your Team” approach meant to you? 

Phil: For a significant period of the time we were working with The Resultants, Steve would bring one of his staff to meetings to keep track of notes, which would help them determine what the next meeting would look like. 


Over a period of time we were trained to provide that function, along with all the team behind the team functions, internally. So the team behind the team approach creates a great example of what you should strive to accomplish as you grow. 


Think of it this way: If you go to college you expect to go for a period of time and then graduate. We graduated from the college of The Resultants. We eventually learned to do the things Steve taught us ourselves, then took it to the next level by adding an outside board of advisors. 


When you hire a group like The Resultants, you’re effectively putting a college professor right in the middle of your leadership team, and they’re teaching you how to grow your business, improve your profits, and integrate that deeply into your organization. 


Everything Steve and The Resultants taught us over the years helped us grow and keep our business on track through a number of acquisitions. And what’s amazing is that it cost as much as one college tuition to train our entire leadership team! When you divide that cost by the entire organization and, over time, you double your sales, maintain profitability, and receive coaching and accountability, it’s incredibly valuable. 


Rob: The Resultants brought us a very clear, structured way that we could look at our business, identify what’s important, and make improvements where necessary…it’s really been a good relationship. 


We’ve taken the system we learned from The Resultants from our top level management down three layers within the company, and as such, a good percentage of our employees are exposed to those tools, and it’s really improved our business.


 

Partner With The Resultants To Take Your Business to the Next Level

Whether it’s growth through M&A or a different strategy, at The Resultants, we pride ourselves in helping our clients take their businesses to the next level. Our team of experienced professionals brings a diverse range of skills and expertise to the table, allowing us to provide tailored solutions that address each client's unique situation. Interested in talking to a Business Advisor about how you can make your business go further, faster? Contact us today to find out how The Resultants can help you.

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